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One of the social media posts Cooper made with the claim about North Carolina's teacher pay ranking falling One of the social media posts Cooper made with the claim about North Carolina's teacher pay ranking falling

One of the social media posts Cooper made with the claim about North Carolina's teacher pay ranking falling

By Will Doran September 2, 2016

Roy Cooper falsely says North Carolina teacher pay ranking has fallen under Pat McCrory

In his new ad, Democratic candidate for N.C. governor Roy Cooper focuses on a teacher who says she had to leave North Carolina to find a better-paying job in another state.

The ad says Gov. Pat McCrory, the Republican incumbent whom Cooper is trying to unseat, proposed a budget for this school year that would’ve had the smallest percentage of state funding going toward education in 30 years. We rated that claim Half True in a previous fact check.

But another Cooper claim caught our eye: The one he used to promote the ad online.

"Under Pat McCrory, our state has fallen to 41st in teacher pay," Cooper tweeted along with a video of the ad. "We must fix this."

He said the same thing on Facebook, also adding in a jab accusing Republicans of "election year gimmicks."

But we wondered if it was actually Cooper who was using an election year gimmick here.

Who pays teachers?

First, a refresher on teacher pay.

It doesn’t come entirely from the state government. School boards are allowed to supplement local teachers’ salaries, and all but a handful of North Carolina’s 115 school districts choose to do so.

Depending on the district in North Carolina, teachers can get a few hundred dollars a year or more than $6,000.

So it’s hard to attribute all of the responsibility for teacher pay, good or bad, to only the state government or only the county and city governments. However, the state does provide most.

National ranking

In the 2015-16 school year, according to estimates by the National Education Association, North Carolina was ranked 41st in teacher pay – just like Cooper claimed.

However, take that number with a grain of salt. The NEA typically revises its salary numbers after a year, and that revision can sometimes make a difference in the rankings.

In 2014, for example, the NEA estimated the average North Carolina teacher made $45,737 in 2012-13. It tentatively ranked the state 46th in the country.

The revised numbers came out a year later. Even though North Carolina’s average pay for 2012-13 didn’t change, its ranking rose from 46th to 43rd because other states did change.

So when the revised numbers for 2015-16 come out, North Carolina might still be ranked 41st. Or it might be a few spots higher or lower. We won’t know until spring 2017, however, so for now we’ll just go by the estimates.

The rise and fall of teacher pay

But is Cooper right with the more important part of his claim, that North Carolina has "fallen" to 41st under McCrory’s leadership?


McCrory was sworn in on Jan. 5, 2013, halfway through the 2012-13 school year. As we already mentioned, North Carolina was ranked 43rd that year.

McCrory’s first budget, for the 2013-14 school year, saw teacher pay drop to 47th in the nation. But teacher pay has only risen since then, even if only slightly.

In 2014-15 average pay rose to 42nd, and in 2015-16 it was estimated to have risen again to 41st.

So Cooper is clearly wrong about the ranking having "fallen to 41st" under McCrory. It actually rose to 41st.

Cooper’s campaign pointed out that teacher pay was much higher when Cooper was in the state legislature – especially toward the end of his tenure when Cooper was one of the top Senate leaders. In the 1990s and early 2000s under Democratic legislators and a Democratic governor in Jim Hunt, North Carolina did rank much higher in average teacher pay.

While the state never paid teachers as much as the national average, its ranking did break into the top half of states. North Carolina ranked 21st in average teacher pay during Cooper’s last year in the Senate, in 2000-01, and it was 22nd the year before.

But the ad doesn’t talk about any of that, nor do the posts promoting it. The posts instead make the incorrect claim that the state’s ranking has fallen under McCrory.

We wondered if there was a different way the claim might have some truth to it. Maybe even though North Carolina’s ranking rose, its average pay fell compared to the national average.

That’s possible. A state could rise in the rankings even while sinking further away from average, if the average is affected by outliers at the very top or bottom of the rankings.

But again, that’s not the case.

In 2012-13, the last pre-McCrory budget, the average North Carolina teacher made 81.6 percent of the national average. The most recent data we have is the NEA estimate for 2015-16, when the average North Carolina teacher made an estimated 82.6 percent of the national average.

Like with the ranking itself, that’s not much of an increase but it is still an increase – although it’s lower than the 95.6 percent it reached during the last budget Cooper helped pass as a legislator.

Our ruling

Cooper said North Carolina "has fallen to 41st in teacher pay" under Gov. McCrory.

In fact, the opposite is true. North Carolina has risen to 41st in teacher pay since McCrory entered office. It’s barely an increase, from 43 to 41, but it’s still an increase.

Since the claim contains a snippet of truth – that North Carolina is one of the country’s lowest-paying states for teachers – but uses that to paint a misleading picture, we rate this claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Roy Cooper ad "Fix This" via YouTube, Aug. 29, 2016

Roy Cooper Facebook post, Aug. 29, 2016 promoting ad

Roy Cooper tweet, Aug. 29, 2016, promoting ad

Email, phone interviews with Roy Cooper spokeswoman Megan Jacobs

PolitiFact, Sept. 1, 2016, "Roy Cooper ad attacking Pat McCrory on education leaves out important details"

National Education Association, "Rankings of States and Estimates of School Statistics," 2004-05 to present

WRAL, April 26, 2016, "After inflation, NC teacher pay has dropped 13% in past 15 years" contains data about education funding at end of Cooper’s time in legislature

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More by Will Doran

Roy Cooper falsely says North Carolina teacher pay ranking has fallen under Pat McCrory

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